World Animal Day 2018

World Animal Day 2018

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 2nd Oct 2018

In light of World Animal Day, we’ll be taking a look at one of the most conflicted countries in terms of its stance towards animal protection, conservation and trading. The following article focuses solely on South Africa, and the country’s duality: at times, it can be an exceptional place to view wildlife (and is also home to some fantastic volunteer projects), but with its controversial laws and occasionally questionable practices, South Africa can be either a paradise or a dystopia for wildlife conservation.

The ivory trade is well-known as a major threat for our planet’s wildlife, with South Africa sitting atop a bloody throne as the country in which the industry is most prevalent. Indeed, a ban on ivory trade within South Africa was lifted in 2017 - but is there a good reason for this controversial choice? And what impact, if any, could the reversal of this ban have had on other areas of wildlife trade and conservation throughout the nation?

South Africa has long since been an outlier of opinion versus its neighbouring nations, particularly when it comes to its methods of wildlife conservation. The nation is considered ‘mega-diverse’, joining 16 other countries in their mass habitation of wildlife species. The majority of earth’s rhinos can be found in South Africa; elephants are found roaming plains here in their abundance; and the prominence of both of these species as a part of the ‘Big 5’ provides much of the nation’s touristic interest. Contrary, then, is the notion that South Africa’s government would allow the trade of animal products to persist throughout the country: while other African nations have called on governing bodies throughout the EU, Asia and America to cease trade of ivory in particular, SA’s own leaders seem to retain hope that legalising such trades will result in the value of ivory, rhino horn and the like plummeting. In their eyes, if these apparent commodities can become more readily available, their luctrivity will diminish.

Elephant Ivory - Ivory Trade South Africa (World Animal Day 2018) The Great Projects

It’s a fascinating outlook, but one which is not without its opposition. The United States, the European Union, Kenya, Uganda, and multiple other nations around the globe have expressed their disapproval of South Africa’s methods, arguing that ‘given the current poaching crisis it would be unproductive and dangerous to proceed with discussions about legalising the ivory trade’. Indeed, these concerns do certainly seem merited: the poaching crisis in South Africa, overall, has reached critical levels in recent times, with the issue skyrocketing from 2008 onwards. A study by Save The Rhino shows just how extreme things have become with regards to the rhino horn trade, with around 450 rhinos killed in South Africa in 2011 alone - a massive increase from the 80 or so poached in 2008.

Rhino poaching reached fever-pitch in 2014, with a shocking 1215 rhinos being slain on South African soil. There has been a steady decrease in rhinos poached since then (1175, 1054, and 1028 rhinos were killed in South Africa in the years spanning 2015-2017 respectively), but these numbers are still outrageously high. Coupled with the fact that the world saw its last northern male white rhino pass away in early 2018 (Sudan the rhino was not only singular in that he was the last of his kind, but he was a captive specimen and had been for many years), it is of course easy to understand the upset caused by a nation which seems to think that allowing such trades could in any way cease - rather than embolden - the poaching epidemic. Indeed, Kruger National Park - one of South Africa’s prized destinations and known for its fantastic wildlife - has, in recent years, seen a surge in elephant deaths: while there were no recorded ‘deaths by poaching’ in the park between 2000-2013, those numbers had gradually started to creep up by 2014, with the park’s highest recorded number of deaths since 1981 taking place just last year (2017 saw 68 elephants poached within the park). While the intentional killing of elephants remains illegal, it could easily be believed that these high numbers of deaths fall in line with the legality of the ivory trade itself throughout South Africa - the ban was, after all, lifted in the same year as this spike was observed.

Illegally Killed African Rhino Skeleton - World Animal Day 2018 - The Great Projects

There is an argument that by making stockpiles of animal parts readily available for purchase could deter poachers from seeking animals out; that, with horns and tusks obtained from animals which have died from natural causes, the demand for such commodities could still be met. The monies raised through these legal sales could, too, help to fund conservation efforts throughout South Africa - but in reality, is this all too much of an idealistic point of view? A spokeswoman for the WWF certainly seems to think so. ‘A decade has now passed since the initial upsurge in poaching and South Africa is still losing three rhinos a day,’ she told The Guardian. ‘We do not believe law enforcement officials have the systems or capacity to manage parallel legal domestic trade on top of current levels of illegal poaching and trafficking.’

It is law enforcement and the handling of criminality which has plagued Africa for some time (though this is not necessarily a symptom related to SA alone - globally, the illegal wildlife trade is treated extremely lightly once compared to other crimes worthy of our attention, such as human trafficking and drug use). Take, for example, the tale of Africa’s most prolific trafficker, Dumisani Moyo: a master briber and notorious figure throughout the continent, Moyo has managed to evade the law for some ten years, despite a position of Interpol's Redlist of the ‘most-wanted’ wildlife traffickers. Since 2008, Moyo has been arrested no less than 5 times for crimes relating to rhino poaching, but avoided being charged on two of those occasions. He has also been granted bail on more than one occasion, including most recently in June 2018. (More can be read about Moyo here.)

With criminals like Moyo regularly slipping through the net, it’s easy to see where comments such as those made by the WWF come from - how possible, really, is it for traders to differentiate between animal parts obtained via legal means, and that gained only after blood has been shed? It’s not only the animals being caught up in the crime, either: back in November 2017, we wrote about the implications of ‘shoot-to-kill’, another controversial policy considered by South Africa as a deterrent for poachers which, at times, sees innocents caught in the crossfire. It is easy to have a knee-jerk response to an animal being killed (numerous individuals across the globe support the notion of having armed guards on site to shoot/even kill potential poachers, and the policy already exists in some parks), but when one considers that a member of an impoverished family - or indeed a child - could have been coerced into the location and shooting of an animal as a means to survive, the clarity behind those immediate points-of-view soon disappears. After all, it isn’t always the poachers themselves who are the ones committing the crime as to raise money through the sale of such products: sometimes, compliance is the only way to save themselves from being murdered. The lucrivity of poached articles is often only received further up the chain.

Anti-Poaching Unit In Africa (World Animal Day 2018) - The Great Projects

The treatment of poachers - those on the ground - has not gone totally unignored. Save The Rhino’s own CEO, Cathy Dean, has expressed a concern when it comes to the possibility of malfeasance elsewhere along the line. ‘The situation we have now is absurd: either the impact of corruption goes further up the chain than we feared, or the political will to tackle wildlife crime is simply lacking. If we are to stop poaching, we need to be able to prosecute king-pins further up the chain of command than the Level 1 shooters and convict those found guilty.’

Unity, it seems, is the thing that is truly needed if Africa is to bring illegality to an end - but this is something that seems incredibly difficult to fulfil in a continent of its size. It appears that there will always be governments (and smaller groups) willing to push back against the status quo, and when the wildlife trade throughout Africa has been prevalent for so long, it’s not hard to see why a select few would like to shake things up with newer methods. But is it possible that these newer methods - when tested, at least - have posed something of a detriment to Africa’s animals? For example, 2009 saw a one-off commercial sale of ivory take place, generating £15 million in revenue (which was then spent on conservation) - but the sale took place before an upsurge in rhino deaths. Is it possible that this legal sale of ivory could have stimulated a greater demand for animal products overall (certainly from Asia, the world’s biggest buyer of ivory), or was a monumental increase of rhino deaths from 2009 onwards simply a coincidence? With varying opinions from across the board and the future of both elephant and rhino species wavering year-on-year, it’s certainly difficult to decide what to do next. But hope has been found overseas, and there lies an unlikely model which could be replicated, if unity were to prevail.

Ironically, Asia (with its apparent love of animal products) has managed to birth a solution which, so far, seems to have worked: despite its curious geographic position between China (home of ivory-induced medicines) and fiercely-protective India (the motherland of the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy, as seen in Kazaringa National Park), Nepal has earned its place as something like a conservation miracle. On at least two occasions, the nation has celebrated 365 straight days without a single instance of poaching for ivory (2011 and 2014). Nepal’s success seems to stem from a true sense of unity across the board, from governments and police right down to conservation organisations and the local people, with everybody pulling together to protect the nation’s wildlife and natural land overall. In fact, some 13,000 square miles of land is currently protected: 23% of the country has been designated to national parks (10), wildlife reserves (3), and conservation areas (6), and much of these areas cover the critically-important Terai Arc Landscape, an area of supreme biodiversity.

Asian Elephant Taking Bath In Chitwan National Park, Nepal - World Animal Day 2018 (The Great Projects)

The preservation of land is just one of the many ways in which Nepal has succeeded in the realm of conservation: more accountability has been given to the government (both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Forests and Soil Conservation lead the pack in terms of wildlife conservation and crime control relating to the issue); similarly, the country’s communities are inspired to care for their surroundings, with 28% of forests belonging to the locals. This ownership translates to aspiration for the community and, as such, both poverty and poaching activity have dropped. Finally, Nepal has welcomed the arrival of more than 500 Eco-Clubs for the country’s younger members, with attendance levels at around 800,000 strong. By raising their youth with a positive outlook on nature, the future certainly does look bright for Nepal.

Time will tell if unity will ever become prevalent across Africa, but with a global spotlight on the continent and pressure for efforts to improve, it is hopeful that South Africa’s most at-risk species can survive. A change in policy not only in Africa but in other parts of the world too, could signify a need for change: 2018 saw the trade of ivory being banned throughout the UK, with other countries either following suit or having taken a stand previously. Yes, there are still issues to be ironed out - the United States, in fact, have lifted a ban on trophy hunting imports, upsetting conservationists and officials across the globe - but in a time of heightened political and social pressure, our voices can certainly be used for change. In light of World Animal Day, why not consider signing a petition against ivory trade? You might also like to learn more about the struggles faced by all species across the globe/the efforts made in various countries around the world by joining a project, too. A third of your project fee goes right back into conservation efforts for the project, making a volunteering holiday the perfect way to make a difference whilst learning something vital - head to our project pages now to find out more.

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